State tightens Sunday liquor laws

Published 11:02 am Friday, February 13, 2009

Like a Mimosa or Bloody Mary with your Sunday brunch? Or, wine with dinner on Sundays?

Such soon may be a thing of the past in Shelby County, at least where your favorite restaurant is concerned.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has served notice on Shelby County restaurants that serve alcohol on Sundays that they must choose between holding a retail restaurant liquor license or a club liquor license.

The private club license allows for liquor sales on Sunday; the retail restaurant license does not.

Unlike their counterparts in Jefferson County, Shelby County restaurants must hold a private club license in order to sell alcoholic drinks on Sundays.

Because of a change in interpretation and enforcement by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board of current laws, the practice of holding both licenses will soon end, restaurant managers report.

The Alabama ABC Board now says it must be one or the other.

Particularly hard hit by the new interpretation and enforcement of the law may be those restaurants located near Jefferson County. Jefferson County restaurants face no similar restriction on alcoholic beverage sales on Sunday.

Changing the law restricting liquor sales in Shelby County on Sundays is not an easy matter — and not likely to happen, said State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Shelby County. Such would require legislative action leading to a vote of Shelby County residents.

“Right now we just don’t have the votes in our delegation to pass it,” Hill said. “We’re trying to work with them (restaurant owners and managers) to look after it the best way we can. They have another avenue they can pursue and that is to go to court and stop it. The ABC Board gave it to them, they made the investment, now they are taking it away.”

Other Alabama counties, like Houston County, are also facing difficulties brought about by the new interpretation and enforcement of the Sunday liquor sales law. Houston County sought action in the legislature to set up a vote on the issue recently, which failed.

“It’s going to be a terrible nightmare for economic development in Shelby County, but there are a lot of people who think they shouldn’t be able to sell alcohol on Sundays,” Hill said.

Paul Hill, an owner of Pub 261 in Pelham was in the process of applying for a private club license to go along with his existing retail restaurant liquor license so his restaurant could offer alcoholic beverages on Sundays.

“Personally, I think everyone in Shelby County ought to be able to sell it on Sundays,” Paul Hill said.

If he is forced to choose between one of the two licenses — retail or private club — Paul Hill said he would choose the retail license and simply not offer alcohol on Sundays.

“The private club license is a royal pain — that is, if it is done as it is supposed to be done. Many aren’t doing what they are supposed to and are selling alcohol on Sundays. But if you do what is supposed to be done, it is not worth it. You have to have a full-time person just to keep up with records and check everyone in and out the door,” he said.

Restaurant owners and managers have until May to notify the Alabama ABC Board as to which license they choose. Then, when current licenses expire on Sept. 30, only one license renewal will be allowed.

Attempts to reach Bob Martin, attorney and spokesman for the Alabama ABC Board, were unsuccessful.